How Doctors and Nurses Protect Themselves From Infectious Patients

Health care workers take precautions to avoid illness.
Health care workers take precautions to avoid illness. / wutwhanfoto/iStock via Getty Images

For most people, flu season is a time to be extra wary about coming in contact with people coughing, sneezing, or otherwise showing signs of having an illness. But for health care workers like physicians and nurses, they have no choice but to get close to patients who are ill. So why don’t health care workers get sick more often?

In clinical settings, physicians observe some basic and common-sense methods of reducing the risk of exposure to germs. According to Verywell Health, the two biggest edicts are to not touch a patient unless they have to, and to wash their hands before and after coming into contact with a patient. Coupled with avoiding contact between their hands and their own face, these measures greatly diminish the chances for an infection to take hold.

In a hospital setting, however, there are other ways diseases can be transmitted, particularly when bodily fluids are involved. Health care workers never risk bare-skin contact with fluids like blood, spinal fluid, or lung excretions, even if the patient has tested negative for an infection.

If an illness can spread by patient contact, physicians will don gloves and possibly gowns, taking special care to reduce the chances of transmission. If an infection can be transmitted by droplets from coughing or sneezing, physicians may stand 3 to 6 feet away from a patient and wear surgical masks to avoid germs.

Obviously, up-to-date vaccinations also help health care workers avoid tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and other illnesses. Some doctors believe in the immune system benefits of vitamin C and zinc, though there is scant research evidence on their efficacy.

But a patient’s perception of a doctor’s formidable constitution might be just that—a perception. Doctors get sick, too, but owing to the scheduling issues created by being absent, they often force themselves to come into work. When you're dealing with people who are ill, sick days are a luxury most health care professionals can't afford.

[h/t Verywell Health]